Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, March 14 @ 4:34 p.m.
Del Norte Supervisors Begin Process of Closing Juvenile Hall, Ask Probation Chief to Form Re-Entry Team Should Things Change
Del Norte County supervisors told staff to begin the process of closing the community’s 24-7 juvenile detention center.
Tuesday’s 3-2 decision ended a purgatory Chief Probation Officer Lonnie Reyman says his department has been in since he recommended shuttering the facility in October.
Unable to meet state staffing requirements, Reyman said the proposed closure is his best solution. In response to a question from Board Chairman Darrin Short, who asked if suspending detentions would work, Reyman said he wants to take steps to maintain the facility if the county is able to resume housing in-custody juvenile offenders again.
But Reyman currently doesn’t have enough work for his staff to make a short-term suspension of operations viable.
“I don’t have a solution for what to do with my two cooks if we shut down custody locally, even for a short period of time,” he said. “I have six (juvenile correction officers). I don’t foresee the need for six officers in a re-entry team. That’s the thing I butt up against. If there’s a pathway through that, I’m open to exploring it, but I’ve not found that as a viable option.”
Both Short and District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey oppose shuttering the juvenile detention facility.
Reyman’s report to the Board on Tuesday came at District 4 Supervisor Joey Borges’ request. Borges also asked his colleagues to consider closing juvenile hall no later than June 30. On Tuesday, Borges said it wasn’t fair for the department to “just sit in limbo.”
“I think it’s time we make a decision and give a clear direct path that we’re taking and we take those steps and move forward,” Borges told his colleagues.
Reyman’s Tuesday update to the Board was similar to the report he gave last month. Three in-custody youth are being housed in Humboldt County under an MOU both boards entered into in February. None are currently in Shasta County, though Shasta is available to house juvenile offenders if there’s not enough bed space in Humboldt, Reyman said.
As for staffing, Reyman said candidates are being interviewed for deputy probation officer and juvenile correction officer positions. Two candidates out of four are scheduled to be interviewed on Thursday, he said.
The Probation Department has also hired a legal clerk and has two potential candidates for a senior account clerk.
Still, the workload is uncertain, he said.
In January, Del Norte County re-designated juvenile hall as a special purpose juvenile hall after Reyman said he only had enough staff to operate the facility 90 hours a week. This designation ensures the facility is in compliance with state regulations, limiting the amount of time youth can be in custody to 96 hours a week, but stops short of shutting it down entirely.
On Tuesday, Reyman called special purpose operations unsustainable. In the case of the three youth in custody in Humboldt County, they are serving long detentions. An idea to have local staff transport them back to Del Norte County was abandoned because it’s not a good outcome for those youth.
Out of 150 bed days Del Norte County youth served last month, 10 were actually in Del Norte County, according to Reyman. The remaining 140 were in Humboldt.
“We can continue to operate (juvenile hall) as a special purpose, but I don’t think it brings a whole lot of benefit to our community in doing that,” he said. “There’s not enough to outweigh the cost both financially and on staff because there’s no way to guarantee that I have a kid that’s going to come into custody at any given point and they have their job to do.”
A re-entry unit could help transport juvenile offenders that are in custody and could operate programs for the other youth that receive services through the Probation Department, Reyman said. That’s something that could be sustainable.
Before she cast her opposition vote, Starkey apologized to members of Del Norte County’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission.
“I believe the reports that have come from the JJC and, just to reiterate, the JJC is a mandated legislative body with members who are appointed by a superior court with a purpose to act as a public conscious,” she said. “The JJC came to us twice in the past five years and reported their concerns. I want you to know that I see you, I believe you and I’m sorry that it’s coming to this.”
Two JJC members on Tuesday indicated that they felt their concerns about the work environment in the probation department fell on deaf ears.
Commissioner David Dornaus said Reyman had wanted to close juvenile hall since Bar-O Boys Ranch was closed in 2017. When Reyman made his recommendation to the Board of Supervisors in October to close juvenile hall, “all kinds of people left,” Dornaus said.
“The problem with staffing isn’t hiring, the problem is with staffing is retention,” he said. “You can hire people all day long, but if they turn around and leave because of the work environment, it’s a never-ending thing.”
Dornaus’s colleague, Paul Dillard, chair of the JJC, said he felt juvenile hall would have been closed back in October if it weren’t for Short, Starkey and then-supervisor Susan Masten asking questions. But the Juvenile Justice Commission’s request in an Oct. 24 letter to look into hostile work environment allegations has been ignored, Dillard said.
The loss of staff is a common thread in both juvenile hall and adult probation, Dillard said, asking why the county conducted a formal investigation.
Dillard also brought up Measure R — the county's 1 percent sales tax measure that was meant to enhance a variety of services, including public safety.
“This is a sad day for our county. Is that why we passed a tax measure — to cut services to our youth?," he asked. "The residents and the youth deserve better."